Oliver Czaja interview: Meet the Australian Rollerblading Open Street Champion for 2015

Oliver Czaja ARO champion Open Street
2015 has been a watershed year for Sydney’s Oliver Czaja. From his second year entertaining the masses at the Happy Valley theme park in Tianjin, China, to rubbing shoulders with the world’s top competition skaters at FISE World Chengdu and his recent big win in the coveted Open Street division of the Australian Rolling Open in Canberra, Oliver has fast become one of Australia’s most visible rollerbladers on the world stage. Rollerblading.com.au’s Jesse Kuch caught up with Oliver shortly after ARO for this candid interview about his life, rolling and plans for the future…

Hi Oliver, what’s up?

Not much man, just chillin’ on the porch and going over some clips from ARO.

I would ask how you’re going, but I’m guessing after ARO that’s pretty good.

Well, to be honest, it was only today (four days later) my entire body felt 100 per cent. That monster drop ledge was perfect but you truly do feel that the next day or two, man.

Yeah it looked huge. What about winning though, that must feel really good. Did you think you a chance of taking the to spot when you went into the competition?

I honestly don’t know what to feel, you know? Skating the comp, especially in the finals, I was skating and then stopping to catch a quick breath … I can hear my mates lacing tricks but I can’t see, so I’d lose it. Next minute, it’s like wait, what trick was I thinking about (laughs). Plus after hearing Robbie (Kellett) lace an alley-oop soul to alley-oop topsoul cab 720 into the bank, at the end I personally thought the results would have been different.

>> ALL THE ARO 2015 RESULTS, PHOTOS AND VIDEOS

>> ROB KELLETT’S ARO WEEKENDER EDIT

Well, you definitely did something right! Is there a trick or line that you were most of proud of on the day?

I gotta say the 810 of the hip transfer. But I would have loved to do more tricks off the end of that drop ledge… I had a few lined up for sure.

You’re definitely been doing well in the competition scene year – it’s not just ARO. I watched you live at FISE World in China and I saw you won another Chinse competition, too. What was it like skating at FISE?

I’ve been trying my best at the competition scene, I haven’t really been in any since 2012-2013. FISE was amazing, hands down. Having the privilege to skate that park, especially with all those big names, was amazing. The ramps were perfect except the occasional loose panel, which you can understand … the park’s built for BMX, really, so they are not that meticulous at inspecting it.

China in general looked rad – already had a big chat to Rob Kellett about his time over there, but I’m keen to hear how it was for you.

Robbie covered it pretty well, except on my first contract at night time I’d take Ukrainian and Brazilian dancers for a ride on the scooter or Robbie’s motorbike (laughs). All up, I’ve spent close to 13 months in Tianjin. Six this year and close to seven last year.

Oliver Czaja
Wow… must almost be like a second home now. What’s it like “performing” for an audience at the theme park? Must be kinda surreal.

It was, but second time round didn’t have the upbeat feel so I was twenty-four seven skating park and street. It was a performance because the average public wouldn’t know the difference from a sweatstance to a hurricane top soul or 180 to 900, honestly. They just want to see you do rad things and interact with the crowd, which is what we did on a daily basis three times a day, six days a week. Even on days off we would be putting on free demos at street spots and heaps of people would flock us to snap pictures and to look at the foreigners. What was awesome was they were good for a barrier, so if a spot went into the road we had a sweet cushion, if you know what I mean (laughs).

Crowd control!

At its finest, mate.

Have you travelled much overseas in other places?

I spent about four months living in Brazil. I started off living in a very small country town and then made my way to the coast of Vitoria, north of Rio and Sao Paulo, where I bumped into a rollerblader who hooked me up with the locals.

When was that?

That was just before the China contract, from November 2013 to beginning of March 2014, I think. Khalil Stenning offered the contract to me mid-flight coming back from Brazil.

Far out… so you’ve basically been living the dream for the last three years. 

Close to it, man.

I think we need to rewind right back to the start (laughs). Tell us a bit about where you were born, grew up and how this crazy adventure called rollerblading started.

I was born in the western suburbs of Sydney and grew up there as well. You could say in the ghetto! I rollerbladed when I was about four or five years old for a tiny bit in oversized skates until I got my own, but by that time I didn’t feel it. When I was 12, I was going on vacation care because my mum worked a lot and no one could really looked after me. They had a special day where they said we could bring a BMX, skateboard, scooter or rollerblades.

A mate there had these Roces M12s, the original ones that had the pop rivet frames, and he told me to rollerblade so I had a week to get new skates. I got some Rollerblade brand skates from Kmart, left the brake on and away I went. On the day my mate was street skating and showed me some stuff. I ended up doing a 540 on a seven-stair set first go and was launching off a ramp five or so metres in length. That was the day I said, ‘mum im going to be a rollerblader’ and started from there.

Oliver Czaja
Sounds like you were born to do it…

I had a lot of inspirational people around me during my grom days … I think i can say that word now (laughs). It’s gotta be said, my family always said, ‘there’s nothing in rollerblading’ and the first time they watched an event was FISE. That made me pretty emotional, I ain’t gonna lie.

I guess it shows if you stick to what you love, it eventually pays off.

It’s taught me something – if you do something for 10 years, it will always repay the patience.

When did you start attracting the attention of sponsors and the like … and who do you skate for right now?

I’d have to say the first time I attracted any attention would have been coming third at the AROs in 2007 at Monster Skatepark in Sydney. That’s when I got onto Manly Blades just before they changed their name to Skater HQ. I was on Valo for a little bit until I had a nasty bail and that put me out for close to two-and-a-half years. That was around the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009.

Ouch. That must have sucked!

Yeah man, it was just before that big ARO where Brian Aragon put a hole in the floor from that huge gap. I was kind of training. I learnt my lesson from it, though: don’t forward 1080! Fakie is acceptable but not forward (laughs).

Was it hard coming back after an serious injury like that?

Oh yeah, man. My first comp back was ARO 2011, which I placed dead last. I still did the steeziest phillips 66 over the spine at Woden, I don’t care what anyone says (laughs).

A lot of people don’t like skating competitions, but from what we’ve talked about tonight, it seems like you do…

I’ve recently got a bug for it and I always enter because the cash goes into the sport. I’m not a vert skater but I’ll still skate it! After FISE I’ve gotten a bug where I can’t not go to a skatepark and just hit line after line. It’s just fun being able to connect it all together.

That’s what the FISE commentators remarked too – you were the first one using a lot of the obstacles on the day.

I couldn’t wait to get my skates on ‘em. All the boxes had perfection written all over them. The second you would lock you would want to ride it to the end.

Do you prefer skating park or street? Or are you a skate all day, every day kinda dude?

People call me a park-rat. That’s not a thing I’d claim because the pure fact is, I’d rather session a down rail or kink rail or something fun that is street-oriented AND skateparks to float and boost some airs. I’d skate all day, every day.

You’re also hooked up with VC… is that you’re only other sponsor other than SkaterHQ?

Yeah, I was going to say that. I hooked up with VC midway through my first contract in China. After FISE I had Demon United get in touch with me, they do all types of protective gear fro gaskets to full face helmets and body armour. I’m just waiting for a package in the mail from them now.

What about outside blading? What do you do when you’re not rolling?

Ohh, that’s a tough one.

Really? Are you some kinda of international secret agent or something?

Well being a rollerblader is the best cover – I need to get in touch with an intelligence agency (laughs). Nah, right now I’m not working. I’ll work when i need to, but I’ve worked so many different jobs, from alarms to stone mason to contracting welder … I dipped my hands into mechanics for a bit. I just do casual stuff as it comes up, plus I’m trying to get my freelance photography and filming business up and running, and organising the NSW Titles.

Oliver Czaja Fise China
The cat is out of the bag! How’s that all going? I can’t remember a NSW Titles for a while…

I dropped a peep about the NSW titles at ARO. It only seemed fit because I can’t give a speech to save my life. When they asked me to speak I turned into a stunned mullet. I’m pretty sure forgot about everything I had to say. So far everything’s looking good. No dates are set as I need to find out with the other states so we don’t get any clashing. We might even make a series out of it, let’s see. I hope I’m not dropping too many secrets.

Nah.. you’re secrets are safe with us… and the internet. But seriously, it’s great you’re taking on the challenge, there are so many killer skaters in NSW.

That’s right. It would be great to state titles feeding into ARO every year.

Unity is the only way that things are sustainable.

Yeah I’ve been thinking about holding it for a year or so. I’ve given a lot of thought about what obstacles that need to be built, things like that.

Which park?

There’s three in mind that stand out, because you need a park with nice quarters, good lines and you don’t always need a jump box but it adds that extra send it-ness in a comp.

I think we should have enough now… is there anything you’d like to say before we wrap up, or anyone you want to thank, things like that?

Yeah dude, maybe just a quick mention about me skating my first ever competition at the 2005 ACT Titles at Tuggeranong (the same venue as this year’s ARO). I was Under-14 Vert champ and in the street comp, I remember gapping the side of the bank to the flat (where I did the 810 we talked about earlier) and cracking my Mook frame clean in half and not having any spare frames for the rest of the day.

I have to say it was nostalgic to be at Tuggers for ARO and it meant a lot to win because a recent brother of mine and the inline community passed away. Nathan Kapral was close to the main reason why I’m as good as I am today. I also have to shout out to Bill at SkaterHQ for always looking after me after all these years, even if Valo were a hard skate to find in shops … and Velvet Couch Clothing for putting the “Send” in “Send it”. Finally, just thanks to my family. They have been secretly behind me even though they can’t watch me skate. They say it’s too scary.

Thanks heaps man, it’s been great. Congratulations again on being the ARO 2015 Open Street champion!

Interview by Jesse Kuch. Photos by Hayden Golder and Gerard Ahrens.

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